Behind the scenes at Factory 56: Innovative logistics concepts for the Mercedes-Benz high-tech vehicle factory

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With Factory 56, Mercedes-Benz sets new standards in vehicle construction. On an area the size of 23 football pitches, more than 400 driverless transport systems transport S-Classes and EQS in the making to the individual assembly stations, as well as their required vehicle parts - completely independently. State-of-the-art digital technology ensures the highest precision and maximum efficiency. As a team member of the project coordination for logistics planning, Sven Uffelmann has accompanied and helped to shape the creation of the state-of-the-art production facility from the very beginning. Together with his colleague Matthias Geiger and the Strategic Logistics Planning team at Mercedes-Benz AG, he prepared the start of production of the new EQS model series in the high-tech factory in Sindelfingen. In this double interview, the logistics experts tell us what the logistics of the future will look like and how their careers at Mercedes-Benz have taken them halfway around the world.

Mr Uffelmann and Mr Geiger, why is Factory 56 so special for you when it comes to logistics planning?

Sven Uffelmann: What is special about our new high-tech factory is the comprehensive networking and the holistic use of modern production technologies. This offers completely new possibilities in logistics. In the past, we mainly used forklift trucks to transport the components to the assembly lines - where the vehicle was assembled. Today, for us it is no longer just about transport from A to B, but about the overall concept of logistics supply, which has become much more demanding in recent years.

Matthias Geiger: Yes, logistics and assembly are also much closer to each other. In Factory 56, we rely on a comprehensive use of the shopping basket principle, whereby we automatically supply the assembly with vehicle-related shopping baskets from our logistics zones. More than 400 driverless transport systems not only bring the vehicles themselves to the individual assembly stations, but also deliver the right parts fully automatically thanks to 360-degree networking - exactly when they are needed. With this system, we achieve both greater efficiency and maximum flexibility in production.

"Factory 56 has four key words in focus: digital, flexible, efficient and sustainable."

Mr Uffelmann, you have been with Factory 56 from the very beginning. What was important for you and your team when planning the logistics?

Sven Uffelmann: Factory 56 has four key words in focus: digital, flexible, efficient and sustainable. This is exactly what we have also implemented in logistics planning. Thus, our driverless transport systems not only bring advantages for our logistics processes, but also reduce forklift traffic and thus also noise emission and accident risks.

What is the process from the first idea to the finished vehicle?

Sven Uffelmann: The first thing was the planning of the hall. We coordinated closely with the various trades, for example on how to arrange the individual production lines. Every area, from the interior to the exterior, must find its optimal place. Then we went into the construction phase, where we as Logistics very quickly implemented the transport processes and technologies. We had an ambitious schedule. Many things had to run in parallel.

Matthias Geiger: That was exactly the time when I joined the team. I already knew Factory 56 from concepts, graphics and plans from when I had my first project assignment of the company's International Talent Programme in strategic logistics planning. This was followed by various positions in Japan and Silicon Valley in the USA, among others. When I came back, the hall was already in the middle of construction.

"Dealing with people from very different disciplines makes our work very exciting and varied."

What is it like for you to work on a project like Factory 56?

Matthias Geiger: At our high-tech factory, we work on many topics that did not previously exist in logistics. It's a great challenge. And there is a lot of freedom in our work. One of my projects was the transport process of the batteries for the EQS. It is cool to see a project that I helped develop from the first idea become reality - and of course it makes us as the team very proud.

What do your working days look like?

Sven Uffelmann: It always differs. The preparation and planning of Factory 56 took several years. Initially, the focus was on conceptual issues, such as the planning of costs and milestones. During that time, we were often in the office or coordinating with our partners and service providers. All in all, we work together with a number of colleagues from very different trades...

Matthias Geiger: ... and when the start-up phase approaches, as in 2020 for the new S-Class or last year for the EQS, we are on site in the hall almost all the time. Then it is a matter of fine-tuning with our project partners such as the building planners or tradespeople and our service providers. Dealing with people from very different disciplines makes our work very exciting and varied. No two days are the same.

How did you two actually start at Mercedes-Benz?

Sven Uffelmann: I already did an internship during my studies in Logistics at the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen and later wrote my final thesis here. I then worked in logistics planning for the C-Class at the Bremen plant. In 2012, my later team leader told me about a logistics project in China. I applied and a few months later I was working as a technical planner in Beijing. That was my entry into the company. After four and a half years in China, I moved to Sindelfingen in 2017 for the planning of Factory 56.

Mr Geiger, what is your story?

Matthias Geiger: In 2018, I completed my Master's degree in Operations Management at the University of Reutlingen. My professor for lean management was involved in setting up the Mercedes-Benz production system. During this time, I was also employed as a working student and since then, the company has not let me go.

And what were your next stations?

Matthias Geiger: After a six-month internship at the then Truck Division in Tokyo, I wrote my final thesis at Mercedes-Benz in Germany and then started the international talent programme. Meanwhile, I was able to gain further exciting insights and project experience. There really are many possibilities and subject areas here.

Finally, a personal question: What is the absolute must-have in your dream office?

Sven Uffelmann: Quite clearly, my colleagues. We are an amazing team and have a lot of fun together. In the past two years, we have mostly worked in our home offices and have only seen each other via video call - this basically works very well, but the personal contact sometimes is simply missing. And what cannot be missing is a coffee machine (laughs). This is important.

Matthias Geiger: I would also like to have a table football game. I learned to appreciate that a lot during my stint in Silicon Valley with the International Talent Programme (laughs).

Cars with the star have fascinated Sven Uffelmann (45) since he was a child. Born in Hanseatic Germany, he grew up with his parents very close to the Mercedes-Benz plant in Bremen. Even as a young boy, he and his friends were drawn to the factory fence to watch the latest Mercedes-Benz models doing their rounds on the nearby test track. Today, when he's not working as a logistics expert to ensure that everything runs smoothly and in perfect time at the new high-tech factory in Sindelfingen, he's at full power when it comes to sports - whether it's playing football, on the tennis court or cycling.
Started as a student trainee, internship in Japan, thesis on an innovative business model, all the way to the International Talent Programme of the Mercedes-Benz Group with stations like Silicon Valley: When Matthias Geiger (28) talks about his career path, you can sense his enthusiasm for topics related to mobility. The logistics specialist not only continues to use his tactical skills to ensure that the production processes in Factory 56 are in harmony with logistics, but also in team sports - preferably on the football pitch.

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